“You can take him in the bathroom with you.”“Hurry and help him get dressed.”
"These two statements were directed at a friend of mine at the LAX Airport. I was the “him,” I was in a wheelchair being pushed by her. My friend was a girl who was a year younger than me. We were headed to Japan for our last vacation as undergrads. Sadly, I had become numb to statements like these.
Yet it was in Japan I received the statement that damaged me the most: a woman asked me if my friend and I were dating. I was no longer a “him,” I was me–a man who could be desirable. For once I was seen by a stranger as a viable boyfriend. Throughout our time in Japan, I was treated as a regular, competent adult. In Tokyo airport returning home, I was referred to as “sir” and always spoken to directly. As soon as we landed back in the US, however, I reverted to a “him” again.“Hurry and get him dressed.” I started to tear up. I wanted to be me, not “him.” I wanted to be someone’s boyfriend, someone that could be desirable.
Japan gave me perspective on how I viewed myself versus how others viewed me. I wanted a girlfriend, to be loved and to be desired. Every time someone couldn’t understand me because of my mild speech impairment, or talked to me indirectly or as if I was less, I would see it as a direct reflection of my “dateability.” I would never blame the other person for the treatment. Over time I started to view myself as “him.” Soon I viewed myself as undateable or undesirable. I was in a very depressed state after Japan. I wished the experience hadn’t happened and had not caused me to so readily associate my “dateability” with how I was being treated.
A year after my trip, a friend and I went to a screening of The Sessions, a film about a man with a disability seeing a surrogate partner to lose his virginity. Long before seeing the movie, I had already been looking into how I could “lose my virginity,” though for me it wasn’t about the sex. It was about wanting the feeling to be desired, I wanted to be touched, to be naked with someone, to be someone’s equal. After being mistreated by the dancers at a strip club and almost being thrown out by the bouncer who assumed my disability was really drunkenness or drugs, I started looking more at non-socialized, illegal avenues like prostitution. Given the illegality and uncertainty of it all, as well as the way I personally viewed sex and love, I had my reservations, but I saw it as the only viable option to see myself asme again. All I wanted was to be seen as me for who I was: an adult male with sexual desires. The Sessions introduced me to surrogate partner therapy, a legal therapy consisting of a talk therapist, surrogate, and client working together. About a year and a half later, with my own stubborn conviction, I was on a plane by myself on my way to San Francisco to go through a 10 day intensive surrogate partner program. This program was an hour a day with a sex therapist and three hours a day with a certified surrogate partner. The therapy was about self-image, and while sex was a possibility, it was certainly not a guarantee.
On the first day I met with the therapist and the surrogate together. The therapist left us alone, and we went to get brunch to get to know each other. Before I knew it she walked me back to my hotel and left and the first day was over. I remember feeling the urge to kiss her without quite knowing why, other than because I knew it was possible to be affectionate towards someone for the first time in my life. We kissed on the third day. Every day we would go on our coffee dates and then return to my hotel where we did exercises to get us comfortable with each other’s bodies and to get me comfortable with my own body. Walking to the coffee shop one day I accidentally bumped her with my walker. I apologized and she replied, “It’s okay. I wanted to be closer to you, anyway.” In that moment, my walker turned from something I had always felt alienated by into something I saw as beneficial for my independence. Some days afterwards we saw a girl holding hands with a guy in a wheelchair, and I exclaimed how awesome it was to see a couple like that. She said, “What about us, Justin?” “Good point,” I replied. I was smiling ear to ear, realizing I had finally done it: I was someone who was on a date. It was on the seventh day when we had sex. She instructed me on how to put on a condom and handed it to me. Within five seconds of my fumbling, she did it herself, either because she was eager or because she quickly understood that I needed help. Whatever the reason, it showed me that whoever I end up in a relationship with won’t care what I can or can’t do. They will love me for me. With the intensive program over, I came to the realization that I had just had my first relationship with a girl, an experience that no one can take away from me. I was someone who was desired, someone who was dateable. It was the best decision I have ever made. I was me again."